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Why the “Self-Made” Success Story Is a Myth (harpersbazaar.com)
154 points by prostoalex 29 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 201 comments



This is such nonsense. First of all, there are absolutely people who come from dirt poverty and become wildly successful. Second of all, plenty of people receive lots of help from their parents and amount to precisely nothing. IMO it's fair to refer to your success as "self made" if you exceed the median success level of your class peer group by a substantial margin.

If you immigrate from Africa with nothing, and you get yourself a law degree and an upper middle class income - that's self made success. If you're born in the US and your entire family is lawyers, maybe that same accomplishment is not "self made success". But if you say, start Microsoft and become a billionaire i'd say that it's fair to call that self-made success.

I feel like this trope that self-made success is a myth comes almost entirely from people like the author of this article. People who were born with lots of advantages, who still couldn't hack it. They want to justify their own failure to live up to their family's expectations by tearing other people down. Whether or not self-made success is a thing, self-made failure certainly is, and i'd say the author of this article more than qualifies for it.


> First of all, there are absolutely people who come from dirty poverty and become wildly successful. Second of all, plenty of people receive lots of help from their parents and amount to precisely nothing.

There are way more people who are born wealthy and continue being wealthy. There are way more people who go from poor to poor. Social mobility is piss poor right now in the US.

If "having a nice family and a wonderful house and a great life" is amounting to nothing, I will take it.

> If you immigrate from Africa with nothing, and you get yourself a law degree and an upper middle class income - that's self made success. If you're born in the US and your entire family is lawyers, maybe that same accomplishment is not "self made success". But if you say, start Microsoft and become a billionaire i'd say that it's fair to call that self-made success.

First of all, Bill Gates had a TON of opportunity and privilege funneled to him from his parents.

Second of all, we are not talking about Bill Gates or Elon Musk. We are talking about the legions of Bradleys going from Georgetown Prep to ivy league schools to finance to the executive class.

You cannot POSSIBLY believe that there is no wealth disparity in the US? That there is not a disparity in opportunity between the wealthy and the middle class/poor?

> I feel like this trope that self-made success is a myth comes almost entirely from people like the author of this article. People who were born with lots of advantages, who still couldn't hack it. They want to justify their own failure to live up to their family's expectations by tearing other people down. Whether or not self-made success is a thing, self-made failure certainly is, and i'd say the author of this article more than qualifies for it.

This is just completely unfounded. You think this entire discussion is propped up by other failed millionaires?

I can't speak to this person's reason for writing the article, but the reason the "self-made success is a myth" is a trope is that people SEE the research, SEE the disparity around them, and smell the bullshit.


> First of all, Bill Gates had a TON of opportunity and privilege funneled to him from his parents.

He absolutely did. And yet even conditional on that category, the probability of becoming a billionaire is extremely low. Therefore, according to the parent comment, that counts as self-made.

> You cannot POSSIBLY believe that there is no wealth disparity in the US? That there is not a disparity in opportunity between the wealthy and the middle class/poor?

You're not following the parent comment's argument, and as a result your response isn't targeted at their specific point. Their specific point is invariant to wealth mobility. Even if you give me an extremely extremely unequal society, their definition of self-made success persists: The ability to exceed the median expectation for your category.

If you're born dirt poor in a slum, and end up running a small laundromat, whereas most of your peers are still scavenging in the slum, you're self-made, because you beat your peers. If you're born as a privileged white kid to millionaires, but end up becoming a billionaire, you're self-made.

Having morally invariant definitions for words is useful, because it's nice to have terms to describe things, without having to stop using terms because they offend peoples moral sensibilities.

Your argument that self-made success literally doesn't exist in any facet, and all is deterministic, so we should never use that term or consider it a phenomena, strains credulity, and makes it hard to describe certain elements of reality.


You'd have to be precise in targeting the social network in which the subject individual wields influence. Networks are more important than money in many ways. An individual who is friends or whose family has friends in VC or PE has a better starting position in an entrepreneurial career than someone who has no connections, even if they have money.

You also need to consider the social implications of your category choice. Choosing a category of "US citizens" vs "millionaires" has vastly different implications. A millionaire in the set of US citizens can invest their wealth in mutual funds, do nothing for 10 years, and come out with vastly more wealth. Someone emerging from poverty who starts a small business and actively contributes economic value might take home $50k/year. The millionaire doubles their wealth by doing nothing and the small business owner fights tooth and nail to bring home a modest income. The millionaire also has the option of leveraging their wealth and time to make even more money, where the self-made individual doesn't. Capital is a gravity well.

You can limit your subject set to individuals with $1M-2M in no-strings-attached cash at the start of the study, but why would you? Gates has done a lot to build his wealth but there is no way to know how many individuals would have done better than Gates if they'd started in the same position. You can start to consider that when you expand the set of individuals in the study beyond the arbitrary wealth filter and account for social mobility. Then when you figure out how many people could have done better, you can come up with a "self-madeness" score. Though the whole thing is silly IMO. No one exists in a vacuum.


> The millionaire doubles their wealth by doing nothing and the small business owner fights tooth and nail to bring home a modest income.

If a large group of millionaires reads your comment, sees the light and shamefully decides to do something by pulling their investable assets out, the small business owner will likely face high capital costs and in many cases be simply unable to raise any money at interest rates attractive to him/her.


That's what happens when unrestrained capitalism moves production of goods outside of the local economy and into distant foreign economies which are more difficult to access. Capital aggregates in the few international trade hubs and starting a new business becomes more difficult as various gates are put in front of the newly foreign production. As capital becomes more centralized, fewer people are in charge of the decisions to invest and innovation becomes more difficult because rather than being distributed across the range of economies and lifestyles in the US (or any country) it is invested in the few who have access to the gatekeepers. Usually that requires physical access over time, which means living in an increasingly expensive city and successfully competing with an increasing amount of individuals vying for a limited amount of investor attention. Innovation comes from people responding to a wide variety of different problems and situations - how is that going to happen if everyone lives in the same place and is competing to solve the same problems that the relatively few available investors want to put money in? Markets that retain capital are much easier to find money in than markets which leak it.

If an American with wealth wants to help the US economy, they should focus on rebuilding the production capacity of underfunded economies across the US by redistributing wealth from the main international hubs into smaller domestic markets. It probably won't produce optimal returns, which scares off most investors. I have seen a couple funds starting to do this, for what it's worth.

P.S. Banks used to be small and local! Look at how far we've fallen:

- https://ilsr.org/number-banks-u-s-1966-2014/ - https://ilsr.org/vanishing-community-banks-national-crisis/


I am not sure your observation is correct - in industries such as oil and gas the investment community was quick with redistributing wealth to previously underfunded rural areas of Oklahoma, Texas, Alaska, or North Dakota. Another example is Las Vegas, which prior to hospitality industry investments was essentially a piece of desert.

And those are just the big-name examples. Some extended family of mine lives in a rural area of Central Washington, which anecdotally in the past decade has experienced high growth in manufacturing, driven primarily by Japanese money.


Oil money is a start, though my understanding is the workers go where the work is and take the money home when the work runs out. Those also tend to be in places people don't want to live for long. Most of the oil money is also extracted to major cities like Houston, so it's not a complete solution because it's an extremely leaky bucket.

Some places are doing better than others. But are they building products that solve local problems, or are they trying to primarily sell to a national or global market? Are they funded by local capital? Will the benefits of their production stay local?


> The millionaire doubles their wealth by doing nothing and the small business owner fights tooth and nail to bring home a modest income.

Small business owners often are millionaires; the distinction you are making is more accurately between the haut bourgeoisie (the upper class in capitalism) and the petit bourgeoisie (the middle class in capitalism) than between “millionaires” (or any other description of aggregate worth) and some other group.


Kind of proves my point that there are no easy categories. I used millionaire as a catch-all term but you can substitute hundred-millionaire, billionaire, trillionaire, or any subset of each and the point still stands.


> There are way more people who are born wealthy and continue being wealthy. There are way more people who go from poor to poor. Social mobility is piss poor right now in the US.

Can someone please point me to a study that supports this claim? Based on the Pew Charitable Trust's latest economic survey, 57% of people born into the lowest quintile rise above it. And, 60% of people born into the highest quintile fall below it.

See Figure 3: https://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/legacy/uploadedfiles/wwwpe...

I just started digging into the research surrounding economic mobility in the US, and it does not seem to substantiate the claim that the poorest class are just absolutely screwed.


There are way more people who are born wealthy and continue being wealthy.

OK. But that still doesn't translate to the idea of being self-made being a "myth". There are existence proofs that it is possible to be a "self-made success" - depending on exactly how you define "success".

One thing that's important to keep in mind is that all these references to various billionaires, etc., are mostly irrelevant. For most of us, the benchmark of being "successful" is not becoming a billionaire. So the question of "can you become a self-made billionaire" is really a red-herring that contributes nothing useful to anything.


[some person] had a TON of opportunity and privilege funneled to him from his parents.

What percentage of those persons became billionaires? Is it less than 0.1%?

(What percentage of them die broke? I bet greater than 1%)


No one is saying Bill Gates didn't earn his success. But we can't deny that having access to certain levels of privlege makes success much more probably than for those without those advantages.

With Bill Gates' upbringing, it is quite unlikely he would have struggled with housing insecurity.


> But if you say, start Microsoft and become a billionaire i'd say that it's fair to call that self-made success.

Bill Gate’s family clearly contributed to his and Microsoft’s success. His mother in particular had direct contact with the chairman of IBM which lead to a scrappy software company landing a life changing contract.

I’m not saying that to discount the rest of his achievements or effort either. The greatest among us not only have the drive, the intuition, and put in the work, but they also seize upon opportunities when they come knocking.

If it were not his mother and instead a friend’s mother or father that had similar contacts, I have no doubt that Bill Gates would have been just as successful. He would have found that nut and cracked it one way or another.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Maxwell_Gates


I totally agree. What I disagree with is the people that want to dismiss Gates success completely because his family had some money. Tens of thousands of kids have the same background that he did, but don't do anything half as incredible as starting Microsoft. While Gates should acknowledge the advantages he's had, I don't think it's unfair or unreasonable for him to feel pretty good about what he's accomplished.


> What I disagree with is the people that want to dismiss Gates success completely because his family had some money.

I don't know who you are talking to, but I've only heard his family's wealth discussed in the context of people discouraging young adults from attending or completing university, on the example of Gates. The point being that his family's wealth gave him exposure to technology and social networks that people of lesser means could only get through university.


Are you reading the other comments in this thread? I see people making that argument in this very comment's section. I wish that they weren't. Certainly he had advantages that other kids didn't have, and both he and society should acknowledge that. But it doesn't take away a whole lot from what he's accomplished, IMO.


I don't see any comments completely placing the credit for Gates' success in his family's wealth.

Many are just saying it played a factor (as Gates himself readily acknowledges). More importantly, his origins aren't a particularly useful example for a person who doesn't already have similar-enough privileges to what Gates had.

If you are already in a place that Gates was when he started MS (financially secure, young, well-connected), then he is a fantastic of example of someone who seized the opportunities life presented him to great effect.


> Tens of thousands of kids have the same background that he did

Or alternatively: statistics suggests that out of a big sample of people, a few of them are going to strike it really rich.


Or, many people with Gates' background (computer classes in high school in the 70s), did start tech companies, but failed. As the vast majority of new businesses do. The only way we'd ever hear those stories is if they made it rich later, at which point their failures become noteworthy as part of the narrative arc of their career.


Yeah, and? Most businesses fail. I'm not sure what you're disputing here?


That statistical model holds if you assume that the pool Bill Gate's was in generally had the same properties, and his ambition of talent was non-extraordinary.


Not everyone, if put in Bill Gates' shoes, would have been able to take advantage of such an opportunity. Can you say that if you were there, you'd have done the same? And executed as well afterward, into a multi-billion dollar company?


That's the wrong question.

Would Bill Gates have been able to do what he did if he grew up poor, with poor nutrition and poor education? We all owe our success to good fortune and the prosperous society we find ourselves lucky enough to be a part of.


Maybe, maybe not. But what's definitely true is he's exception with respect to his own peer group. Tons of kids had the advantages he had. Only one of them started Microsoft.


That is not true. If Bill Gates grew up like that, he would've been labeled a "self made success" even making $50k yearly. He is from a rich background and thus we have to compare him to his peers - and he definitely is successful and that success is self made compared to anyone from upper middle class - but that doesn't have to do anything with the fact that Bill Gates wouldn't have been able to do what he did if he didn't have rich background (is it even practically possible?).


Maybe he wouldn't have. Maybe someone like him with billions of dollars should start a foundation to try and help prevent poverty, malnutrition, lack-of-education and disease so more people can lead fulfilling lives.


>IMO it's fair to refer to your success as "self made" if you exceed the median success level of your class peer group by a substantial margin.

Even if success were 100% down to luck, there'd still be people who exceeded the median success level of their class peer group by a substantial margin. It's begging the question to simply assert that a majority of these people can fairly claim to be "self made".


Ok, then, calculate the t-statistic of your income level with respect to your starting cohort then, if you want to be rigorous about it. I think my point stands.


That does nothing to show that it's not down to luck. By your logic, anyone who wins the lottery can claim to be "self made" (since so few other ticket holders had anywhere near the same degree of success).


It is a necessary but not sufficient condition. In determining whether someone is self-made, you'd want to examine conditions like that. That being said, it is absolutely not the case that it "does nothing" to show it's not down to luck. Filtering by that criteria substantially increases the probability of someone being 'self-made'.


>Filtering by that criteria substantially increases the probability of someone being 'self-made'.

Of course it does, because non-successful people by definition can't be "self-made"! (In order to be a self-made millionaire, you have to at least be a millionaire.) What it doesn't do is tell us anything about how much of any given person's success is down to luck.

If you are just going to insist that a majority of successful people (as compared to their peers) are self-made, then you continue to beg the question at issue.


> Of course it does, because non-successful people by definition can't be "self-made"! (In order to be a self-made millionaire, you have to at least be a millionaire.) What it doesn't do is tell us anything about how much of any given person's success is down to luck.

Yes it does. There is a certain base rate of people lucking into vast fortunes. There is a certain base rate of people making those vast fortunes under conditions we would describe as being 'self made'. As you step further out onto the curve of wealth, it becomes more and more likely that that wealth is 'self-made', because it gets harder and harder to luck into that kind of money. Jeff Bezos, Gates, Buffet, all qualify for being "self made". As you step down the curve, the proportion of people who lucked into it increases.


>because it gets harder and harder to luck into that kind of money.

But it also gets harder and harder to get that kind of money by skill and hard work. Large amounts of money are more difficult to obtain by any means than small amounts of money. That tells us nothing about the role of luck.

And again, if you are just going to assert that obtaining vast wealth by hard work and skill is more likely than obtaining it by luck, then you are begging the question.


> But it also gets harder and harder to get that kind of money by skill and hard work. Large amounts of money are more difficult to obtain by any means than small amounts of money.

You don't seem to be understanding the point. Let's take an example. Do you think that it is more common, in general, for the wealthiest person in the world to be the result of skill or luck? I think empirically, and simply reasoning a priori we should conclude that the wealthiest person in the world will most commonly be skill-based, in all possible worlds.

Why is that? Well, because the dynamical process that produces wealthy people through luck has a squashed distribution relative to the one that produces them through skill. Skill allows you to create new things that have never existed before (tech billionaires) or understand the world in some new way that is statistically outlying (e.g. the very wealthiest investors, Buffet, Simons, etc.). The dynamical process that produces luck-based wealth is related to knowing people, gambling, and/or inheritance. That process is inherently more constrained by practical dynamics. Nobody is going to be your counterparty to multi-billion dollar gambles, inheritances tend to get split among many heirs, lotteries don't generally mint deca-billionaires, etc..

> And again, if you are just going to assert that obtaining vast wealth by hard work and skill is more likely than obtaining it by luck, then you are begging the question.

I am not asserting that, at least, not exactly. I am asserting that the distribution of wealth produced by each is different, and that has consequences for the base rates of either in the general population. The skill-based wealth distribution has a longer tail than the luck-based one. Which means, that at the very edges of the distribution, the ratio of luck to skill should favor skill.


Yes, so you are simply begging the question. The reasons you give for skill being the more likely explanation are purely speculative. Investing is a good example. Even if success in investing were largely down to chance, you'd still expect to find a small number of individuals who were enormously successful.

Compare misfortune, which no-one wants to take credit for. A small number of people are struck by lightning or die from rare diseases. There's nothing necessarily special about them - they're just unlucky.


> Yes, so you are simply begging the question. The reasons you give for skill being the more likely explanation are purely speculative.

Erm, no. I gave a specific argument. You can call it speculation I suppose, but it is certainly more than you've given here. And 'speculation' and 'begging the question' are very different things. I am not making a circular argument.


You claim that "the dynamical process that produces luck-based wealth is inherently more constrained by practical dynamics". I don't see any argument in support of that assertion except a list of luck-based mechanisms that don't yield billions of dollars. Here are some luck-based mechanisms that do:

* Starting a business which succeeds owing to a lucky bet on what kind of product will sell well.

* Taking a lucky guess at which high-risk investments will pay off.


Yes, those things can pay off. My argument is not that such things do not exist, but that there are fewer instances of those at the very tails than there are of talent-based success. You need only examine the right tail of the wealth distribution to see that this is so. The very richest people in the world are there because of their own skill and insight. Gates, Buffet, Bezos, Kochs. As you step further down into the wealth distribution, you'll see some family money, like the Waltons. If Sam Walton the original was still alive, he'd be near the top...but by exactly the process I described, his children are no longer there.


I think it's obvious that someone who won the lottery did so purely out of their own hard work. Only someone with the proper knowledge and skills would be able to execute on the narrow opportunity of winning the lottery and be willing to take said opportunity in the first place.


> If you immigrate from Africa with nothing, and you get yourself a law degree and an upper middle class income - that's self made success.

A student from Senegal who attended my alma mater now works in Wall Street. In an alumni issue, he described what it was like to go from his tiny village to the capital city in Senegal for an interview for a scholarship at a prestigious international school (where his grades got him another scholarship for college). He described hitching multiple rides just to get to the city, and needed to borrow heavily to pay for the flights once he was admitted.

He named many families and community leaders from his village that he says were instrumental in helping him on that first major step. Where he is today wouldn't have happened without the trust and support of fellow community members. They made sacrifices so he could achieve a dream and eventually repay them.

"Self-made" means different things to different people.


Are you trying to say that this Senegalese fellow would be remiss to describe his own success as "self made"? Sure, people helped him, but he worked extremely hard, and overcome tremendous odds to get where he was. I think he deserves credit for that. Don't you?


Do you have an argument against the authors points that does not consist of adhominem and projection?

The self-made illusion is precisely that because we ignore the many things that gave us a headstart in life and allowed us to do the things that would've caused other people to fail. The only reason why I'm here now is because I took on a risk of going bankrupt moving across the country for a job opportunity in an industry that suddenly became very volatile. Had I been laid off or had the winds shifted and resulted in my first job being downsized, I would've been financially destroyed and dropped right back into poverty. We ignore the sheer amount of luck and circumstance in our career and lives in favor of telling a story where we're the hero.


There's always an element of chance in success. Every new business was a risk. Every move across the country a bet. Every new product a gamble. To say, "well I/he/she just got lucky" I think ignores that fact.

Sports are perhaps a good allegory. Sports always have chance & luck. But the best teams have a track record of tilting the odds consistently in their favor, by working to minimize chance and making the most of luck. Does anybody actually say "Well the Patriots/Yankees just got lucky"?


No they generally say they have deep pockets and can afford the best players.


> Do you have an argument against the authors points that does not consist of adhominem and projection?

Did you read the first part of my comment? Literally the first two paragraphs are exactly what you're asking for.

> The self-made illusion is precisely that because we ignore the many things that gave us a headstart in life and allowed us to do the things that would've caused other people to fail. The only reason why I'm here now is because I took on a risk of going bankrupt moving across the country for a job opportunity in an industry that suddenly became very volatile. Had I been laid off or had the winds shifted and resulted in my first job being downsized, I would've been financially destroyed and dropped right back into poverty. We ignore the sheer amount of luck and circumstance in our career and lives in favor of telling a story where we're the hero.

The fact that luck is involved does not make being 'self-made' an illusion. You're probably an intelligent person, if this opportunity would have blown up for you, you'd have done something else.


Yeah, like fall back into poverty.

People that are wildly successful often hit some very narrow window. You can be persistent and try and try again which increases your odds, but it's still a crap-shoot.


You have to be lucky perhaps to be wildly successful, but you'd have to be quite unlucky to work hard and take smart risks and fail to be successful at all. Similarly, you have to be very, very lucky to rise from poverty to wealth without working hard or taking smart risks. In particular, seeing and executing on a narrow-window opportunity that others miss is itself an accomplishment.

The idea that self-made success is purely a matter of luck is either a myth or true only by some meaningless definition of what constitutes "luck" (i.e., you're lucky that you have the ability and personality to reliably execute well and achieve success).


You can do everything right, work very hard, and still fail. You can do everything wrong, be a complete idiot, and still succeed.

There's ways you can increase your luck, or be more observant as to opportunities, but it's self-deluding if you don't think luck plays a huge factor in success.


It plays a huge factor in the specific degree of success, but a much smaller factor in whether or not you are successful at all. If you do everything right and fail, you are an anomaly pretty much by definition.


You do realize there's arguably at least two billion people who through no fault of their own will never, ever succeed, no matter how hard they try?

You're born in the middle of Tibet as a persecuted ethnic minority. You're on a tiny island nation with no economic future. You're from a part of Africa that's seen nothing but civil war interspersed with famine.

You can do everything right but the deck is so stacked against you there's no winning move.


I don't care to generalize the principle outside of the western world. A valid generalization probably exists, but the terms are already so abstract that I doubt it's possible to have a meaningful conversation.

Yes, there are a vanishingly tiny fraction of people in the western world who will do everything right and still fail, and a similar fraction who will do everything wrong and still succeed; however, they're the exceptions that prove the rule.


No, I likely wouldn't have been able to do much else. I was already poor with health issues. It was only because of that first job that I was able to start addressing those problems before they became dire. I had to take a deep gamble because I quite literally moved with $0 to my name.

It sounds like you're really out of touch with how deep poverty can affect people.


Down-voted for such a strong word - "nonsense". See my other comment [1]. I am as self-made as anyone can be, with a very high standard of living in my country without taking even one cent from my parents beyond a certain age. But all that is because of one stroke of luck - I am proud of the fact that I was able to use that luck to my advantage but under no illusion that all my success is due to me alone.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19200621


Even the superheros in the movies are permitted a little luck occasionally. "Only people who had the worst possible luck at every turn may be considered self-made" or similar is a ridiculous goalpost-moving standard. Next we'd be sitting around a table competing over who faced the most hardship to be considered legitimate.

I was able to use that luck to my advantage

That's what counts.


>But all that is because of one stroke of luck - I am proud of the fact that I was able to use that luck to my advantage but under no illusion that all my success is due to me alone.

I would call you fortunate, not lucky. You didn't fall sideways into your success; you were given an opportunity and _you_ made the most of it. Many others may not have done the same.

We all owe a part of our success to _some_ number of external factors, but go deep enough and it gets absurd (e.g. we all owe our success to irrigation because, without it, we'd be subsistence farmers.) Seeing an opportunity and pouncing on it is not the same as being handed a trust fund and a full ride to Harvard.


The fact that you did not do whatever it is that you did without any modicum of help or luck does not mean you are not self-made. You can take credit for your accomplishments. It's ok. We don't have to live in a binary, all or nothing world. You can acknowledge that you got lucky, while simultaneously acknowledging that you were smart and hard working to achieve whatever it is that you have. Maybe in your case it was entirely due to luck, but I seriously doubt it.


Exactly. The logic of this argument seems to be: luck is involved in being successful, therefore personal effort plays no role at all. It makes no sense.

I like your measure relative to what you were born into. Didn’t get enough to eat when you were a child and are now a millionaire. Self-made!

Born into a millionaire family and turned that into a billion? Self-made!

I’m personally thankful the tall poppy syndrome isn’t that common in the US. I’d hate an environment where success is looked down up. No, being rich isn’t everything, but if that’s what you want, I’m happy you found it.


If I was born poor, and then someone gives me a bunch of money, by this argument I am self-made.


Yeah, that's what we call "a job". Make yourself useful to a rich enough person or group of people, they'll "give you a bunch of money" and call it a "salary".


If someone gave you $1M and a decade later you had $1.5M, no you're not self made.

If someone gave you $1M and a decade later you had $100M, yes, you are self made.


Exactly. When you buy into the "everything is luck, blah, blah" mentality then you have a built-in excuse to let yourself off the hook. You can be as lazy as you want, and when you fail, you can explain it away as "well, I wasn't lucky enough, aww shucks."

Whereas if you believe that you can build yourself up through effort and exertion, and believe that those things are the primary factors in your success, you have no excuses if you fail. You might still fail, but at least it won't be for lack of even bothering to give a sincere effort.

And I don't know about you guys, but I'm OK with failing if I fail for reasons that are totally outside of my control. What I'm not OK with, is failing because I didn't make a sincere effort within the scope of the things that I can control.


> I feel like this trope that self-made success is a myth comes almost entirely from people like the author of this article. People who were born with lots of advantages, who still couldn't hack it. They want to justify their own failure to live up to their family's expectations by tearing other people down.

And there we go. That kind of attitude is why this trope was created initially.

The problem people have with "self-made success" trope is that the self-made success story of someone with severe disadvantages is being equated, on an astoundingly regular basis, with the success of people with substantial advantages. That's how Bill Gates and Arnold Schwarzenegger are both dubbed "self-made" successes, despite their rather different histories.

Even worse, it is being used to justify, defend and perpetuate inequality, by convincing everyone that the American Dream is that "anyone can make it". After all, if such-and-such person coming from dirt poor origins could become wildly successful, anyone can. Therefore, we must strive at all costs to avoid removing "incentives" that motivate people to reach for that elusive success.

Naturally, this will generate resistance, and rightfully so. Despite the endless propaganda that permeates the fabric of our society, the self-made success story of Bill Gates is not the same thing as that of John Paul DeJoria.

So yeah, I agree with you in one aspect: the self-made success is not a myth. It's something much worse -- it's propaganda.

It brings to mind that quote by Anatole France: "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."


> The problem people have with "self-made success" trope is that the self-made success story of someone with severe disadvantages is being equated, on an astoundingly regular basis, with the success of people with substantial advantages. That's how Bill Gates and Arnold Schwarzenegger are both dubbed "self-made" successes, despite their rather different histories.

They are both self-made success stories. Schwarzenegger even moreso than Gates.

> Even worse, it is being used to justify, defend and perpetuate inequality, by convincing everyone that the American Dream is that "anyone can make it". After all, if such-and-such person coming from dirt poor origins could become wildly successful, anyone can. Therefore, we must strive at all costs to avoid removing "incentives" that motivate people to reach for that elusive success.

Anyone can make it. Not everyone can be Bill Gates or Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it is abundantly clear that anyone willing to put in the time and effort can make it into a well compensated profession. Software engineering, medicine, law, these are all things that an average person willing to dedicate themselves can learn and excel at. If you come from nothing, i'd say getting into any of those professions more than qualifies for "making it".


> They are both self-made success stories. Schwarzenegger even moreso than Gates.

That second part is precisely my point. They're both self-made success stories, but they are in no way equal. They're both self-made success stories in the sense that a dolphin and a cat are both mammals.

> If you come from nothing, i'd say getting into any of those professions more than qualifies for "making it".

I would like you to closely examine what you said and the way you said it. I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you just didn't pay a lot of attention to what I wrote, rather than ignoring it and cherry-picking parts to focus on.

The inequality in United States is very, very pronounced and it's getting worse with time. The "self-made success" trope, which involves treating different self-made success stories as equal, is a way of defending and perpetuating that inequality.

People who are getting more and more oppressed by that inequality are rallying against the use of that trope.

Yes, I agree with your definition: an individual that exceeds the median success level of their peer class group can be, under certain circumstances, be defined as a "self-made success".

My point is that it's just a definition. What people are arguing about -- in general, not just this article -- is not really the definition. Rather, they are arguing about the concept in its socioeconomic context.

Which brings me back to what you said about "making it": if you come from nothing, then just having a well-compensated profession is qualifies as "making it". Is that self-made success? Because that's the topic of our discussion here, remember?

Sure, you could just repeat your definition and say that both "well-compensated professional who came from nothing" and "Bill Gates becoming a billionaire" are examples that fit the definition and that you're just stating facts and that there are no value judgments involved. In which case, you're just nit-picking the article and not making a useful point at all.

Or maybe you just took issue with the literal words I used to describe the American Dream and are nit-picking those, outside the context of the rest of the sentence, or indeed the rest of my comment?

The truth is that the discussions about the "self-made success as a trope" are not really about the clear cut definitions. It's turtles all the way down, in the sense that almost everyone relies on other people in some ways, so arguing about the precise definition of "self-made success" is a bit pointless. The discourse is really about the role of the trope in the growing inequality in this society and, to that purpose, arguing about some of the most common abuses of the trope -- like this article does -- is much more useful.


> That second part is precisely my point. They're both self-made success stories, but they are in no way equal. They're both self-made success stories in the sense that a dolphin and a cat are both mammals.

I would argue they're fairly close to equal, since Gates's success is many orders of magnitude greater than Schwarzeneggers in absolute terms. Gates started higher and ended up higher. The amount each moved seems comparable to me.

> The inequality in United States is very, very pronounced and it's getting worse with time. The "self-made success" trope, which involves treating different self-made success stories as equal, is a way of defending and perpetuating that inequality.

I agree, it is. But the question i'm interested in is not what it is used to 'defend and perpetuate', but rather, whether or not it is true.

> People who are getting more and more oppressed by that inequality are rallying against the use of that trope.

Totally, though i'd also add that I think the focus on 'inequality' per se is fairly misguided. I think a much better thing to focus on would be the absolute wellbeing of the bottom. But I don't get to set the cultural agenda.

> Which brings me back to what you said about "making it": if you come from nothing, then just having a well-compensated profession is qualifies as "making it". Is that self-made success? Because that's the topic of our discussion here, remember?

Ya, I would absolutely call that success. If someone immigrates here from Africa with nothing and becomes a lawyer or other professional, that's success. That is making it. Their kids will then have the opportunity to make it on a global scale, just like Gates, et al.

> The truth is that the discussions about the "self-made success as a trope" are not really about the clear cut definitions. It's turtles all the way down, in the sense that almost everyone relies on other people in some ways, so arguing about the precise definition of "self-made success" is a bit pointless. The discourse is really about the role of the trope in the growing inequality in this society and, to that purpose, arguing about some of the most common abuses of the trope -- like this article does -- is much more useful.

My point is simply this: The notion of 'self made success' is not, in any meaningful sense, a myth. It is a real thing that real people do.

Is the story used to justify the status quo? Yes. But lots of stories are used to justify lots of things. The question we should be asking is: is the story true? And if it's true, is it harmful? I don't think it is, but many people seem to.


I mean, nobody is saying that it doesn't exist. What people are saying is that the majority of it is an illusion. It's easy to take risks when you have multiple levels to fallback to. I've worked with both backgrounds of people in the same group and there couldn't be a starker difference in attitudes.


Sure, but lots of people are born rich and don't go anywhere. Yes, it's helpful to have something to fall back on, and yes, successful people from well off backgrounds should acknowledge that fact. But it doesn't mean that their accomplishments aren't their own.


We have a metric for this. It's called socioeconomic mobility. In general your claim that people are born rich but don't go anywhere is only somewhat true.

People that are born rich and wealthy in the US generally do not fall to a lower socioeconomic class, and people in the lower classes tend to not rise. Assuming that skill levels are equal among both groups, can you explain why this is the case? If skill was so important, then we should see overall upward mobility be relatively similar.


> People that are born rich and wealthy in the US generally do not fall to a lower socioeconomic class

This is inaccurate. Only 40% of people in the top quintile of wealth stay there as adults; 60% fall into a lower bracket.

> People in the lower classes tend to not rise

This is also inaccurate. 57% of people born into the bottom quintile escape this quintile as adults.

The reality of the situation in the US is that from an absolute mobility standpoint, it's easier for the poorest quintile of americans to escape their economic class, but the income disparity between classes continues to grow so quickly that relative mobility is severely lower for the poor.

For more info, see: https://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/legacy/uploadedfiles/wwwpe...


Oprah Winfrey is the best example of self-made success.

Black woman born to an unwed single teenage mother, grew up in the projects to a billionaire.


Bill Gates, Zuckerberg, and Spiegel all came from wealthy families...


> IMO it's fair to refer to your success as "self made" if you exceed the median success level of your class peer group by a substantial margin.

"self made" isn't a statistical or legal term. It's a term of culture and art, and it is always employed by people through a subjective lens, whether to themselves or others.

Trying to impose a statistical definition on it ignores the history of its use up to the present, whether that use was justified or not.

> i'd say the author of this article more than qualifies for it

The fact that you are willing to apply a statistical measure for "self-made success", yet despite how little you know about the article's author, you are willing to apply a term like "self-made-failure" to them based on your personal feelings of antipathy toward a particular class of people, indicates that you might not be arguing in good faith.


Relying on "self made person" as a model for success and economic mobility is very much like relying on "win a lottery" as a model for retirement planning. The fact you can find a few people for whom it worked is not a reflection on its viability in general.


Just because there are dirt poor people who are successful and well-off people who aren't doesn't mean they're equally likely. To your broader point, no one person exists in a vacuum- one person's "self-made" is another person's "took advantage of the right tax incentives and business climate and, most importantly, had the luck of timing that they were successful instead of plunging themselves deep into debt". My experience with people who talk warmly of "self-made" people is that they tend to leave out the role of luck.


I feel like your response here is only against the title, not the content of the article, since your complaints are explicitly addressed in the article.


They're mentioned. They're not addressed.


If you immigrate from Africa with nothing, and you get yourself a law degree and an upper middle class income - that's self made success.

Ah. The law professors did absolutely nothing, I suppose? Or the law firm that hired an immigrant that may not have had an understanding of US professional norms? Or the US, which let the immigrant into the country to pursue their dreams of success while relying on taxpayer-funded social services?

This trope of the "self made success" conveniently ignores that people are reliant in many ways on the efforts of others for their success. All those peple who rose from dirt poverty to become successful? Read their stories. At some point, they all relied on someone taking a chance on them--and without that chance, they'd be no different from the thousands of others of dirt poor people who never made it.


Your first two paragraphs make a very important point. Outliers from every cohort exist, and often it is due to a kind of inner drive, and we should not ignore that truth. Your final paragraph is cruel. From every cohort the vast majority of people in that cohort will end up with around the mean outcome for that cohort. This is a statistical fact. Only a few can be outliers, and expecting everyone to be one is mathematically guaranteed to cause suffering in the world.


Perhaps the real message ought to be that we all live as part of a broader continuum wherein we are all recipients of the privileges and hardships of the past, and as a consequence of that reality we ought to have better empathy for all of our brothers, sisters, and otherwise.

IMO arguing whether people are 'truly' self-made is a discussion of semantics. Calling people self-made or not doesn't change the actual timeline of actions and events of an individual’s life.


Which billionaires came from "dirty poverty?" List them, please.

Extra credit: I'm a lowly millionaire, how do I get a seat on a Board of Directors? I have a PhD, 20+ years in the technology field. Am more than qualified for any kind of corporate governance role, etc.


Rex Sinquefield comes to mind. Also Howard Schultz. Oprah Winfrey. Leonardo Del Vecchio.

Maybe Kenneth Langone, Sheldon Adelson, and John Paul DeJoria.


>She told me, “I was curious, but I don't know how a single person in America who doesn't have family money could buy anything, I really don’t, if they're not working in finance or they're not a doctor. ”

Easy, there are vast areas of America where housing is more affordable. I certainly got zero cash from family when I bought a home. My family put money into giving me food and shelter growing up though.

This is kind of like that cartoon of a New Yorker's view of the US, where Manhattan looms large, then there's New Jersey, and at the fringes there is the rest of the nation.


This reminds me of when I was working at Microsoft and a colleague said to me: "I don't know how anyone raises a family off less than $130k/year." I laughed and asked him if he'd ever been anywhere in the US outside of Seattle before. Turns out, he hadn't and assumed the insane cost of living we're subject to in this area also exists in the rest of the country.

My point of reference is my family's house in a rural area that is about 2x the size of mine (the property is 10x) and costs 1/3 as much. I wish my career as a software engineer better enabled this type of living but, alas, my corporate overlords require I am ass in desk every day in a metro area.


My first trip out to the valley working for a company out there someone turned to me and asked "So what do people do out there?" I thought he meant "for fun" but he meant regarding jobs or a career.

Despite the fact that I did the same job he did... "out there".


Between the cost of daycare, health care/insurance, pet care, car payments and maintenance, student loan payments, and then a mortgage (even a cheap mortgage) on top of that, not to mention saving something for retirement, forget the 10x your salary by the time you retire or whatever, and once every 2-3 years go on a vacation at least to the next state over, I do sometimes wonder how households can make ends meet on less than $100k a year, and have no idea how a household can get by on the average $60k a year.

I know living in certain areas are a lot cheaper, but the salaries are usually a lot lower in those areas as well.

Not to mention get married (wedding costs are insane, going through that right now) or other life events.

We make more than that, have no children, and we're still shuffling money around to make it all work. I can't wait to finally pay off my student loans in a couple of years. My fiancee might never get hers paid off, she's barely making a dent in hers.


> Between the cost of daycare

Children cost money, budget accordingly and have the income/s to support them or don't have them. That's a wildly unpopular statement in my experience because so few people like personal responsibility, and yet it's still the economic reality regardless. It's not asking much that people wait until they're financially stable to have children, or otherwise accept that they may not get to have everything they want at an early age. Costs and trade-offs.

> health care/insurance

Most full-time employed persons have their healthcare largely covered by their employer. Among everything you listed, health risks & costs are by far the big concern and are often not something you can easily control.

> pet care

That's a pretty easy choice. Stop having pets until you can soundly afford them. What's more important, pets or saving for children and housing? Car payment or pet?

> car payments

There are plenty of good used cars to be had for $12k to $16k. If you take care of them, they'll last a long time.

> student loan payments

Do not under any circumstances go to an out of state school, or in-state school, that costs $30k+ per year, unless you're going to have the income to afford it. There are a lot of quality state universities that are very affordable.

> and then a mortgage

A monthly mortgage payment at the median is no more expensive than renting. Where you take an economic beating, is inflation + property taxes + maintenance over time; in the form of real value capture destruction (net retaining ~$0.20-$0.30 on the dollar of what you put in).

> wedding costs are insane

Stop having $35,000 weddings. It's really not complicated. Down payment on the median $225,000 house, or have a $25k-$35k wedding. Skip the ridiculous wedding cost, spend $5,000 instead on a nice outdoor BBQ for 30-50 guests, keep the rest to throw at a down payment (or pet care if that's a greater priority). It's nothing more than economic sanity and understanding that you don't get to have everything you want, especially all at once.


As someone who has come from poverty, it still blows my mind that folks who make more than $70k struggle at all. A few of the things you mentioned are strictly luxuries. College, pets, new cars, vacations are all put on the back burner until it's financially reasonable to do so. I've met many folks making more than $100k who are in more debt than someone making $40k. Just ignorant of finances.


Making more money means more people will be willing to give you the rope to hang yourself with. People aren't as willing to lend money to people who don't have a means to pay it back, but someone can be doing well, take out a decent amount of debt ("buy" a car, "buy" a house, take out loans for education, etc), suffer a health or career setback, long periods of unemployment, and it starts a debt that spirals out of control.

I went through a period of near poverty myself (seriously considered declaring bankruptcy a couple of times), and it seemed like the first year or two of any new job I had was just digging myself out of the hole from last time (only to get laid off right as I was starting to get back to a 'normal' amount of debt, and thus be forced to dig myself back deep into debt while I made the next job work). It can be a vicious cycle. I'm finally free of it, but if I was forced not to work for six months or so due to a health issue I could very easily be back in the midst of it again.


Makes sense! Currently going through this right now. Got laid off, have maxed out all my credit cards, and spend my days studying for additional certs or spamming LinkedIn/Indeed/Angel. Nest egg is completely gone, and at this point, might just start applying for minimum wage jobs just to get some form of income coming in. That also means less time focusing on studies and applying for jobs, so it's a lose lose.


Sorry you're going through that right now. I've been in a similar situation. It can be really stressful and seems to take forever to get out of that hole.

If you have friends or family that want to help out, try not to be too proud and let them (at least as far as accepting free meals and whatnot). I always felt uncomfortable "mooching" off people, but it really helped me get through that period without being totally miserable. I never asked for it, but I did accept it when offered.

As a side effect of what I went through, once I paid off my credit cards I have yet to take out another one (still haven't) years later, and I avoided taking on any new debt as much as possible. I was really hesitant to "buy" a house and bought one a lot later than I probably should have, and thus forewent years and years of building up equity (I only bought a house a year ago, and probably could have 5 or 6 years ago, in retrospect). It really screwed with my head, mentally.


Wedding costs are optional, you know that right?

My wife and I spent under $1,000 for a nice, family focused wedding.

Spending more than that if you don’t have the funds is nuts.


Agree this is totally the way to go. We spent $15 and got married in town hall two months ago. Then made breakfast with family at home. The rings cost a little more though.

If you count the gifts, which were not particularly numerous or substantial, we kind of made money on our wedding...


> I do sometimes wonder how households can make ends meet on less than $100k a year, and have no idea how a household can get by on the average $60k a year.

I know many families who make under 100k, have 7+ children and do just fine. There are lots of hand-me-downs and thrift store shopping. This is all fine.

> Between the cost of daycare... Most tend to Homeschool so no daycare is needed.

>not to mention saving something for retirement, forget the 10x your salary by the time you retire or whatever

One of the benefits of having many well raised children, they take care of you during this time.

> and once every 2-3 years go on a vacation at least to the next state over

This is non-necessary.

> Not to mention get married (wedding costs are insane, going through that right now) or other life events.

My wife and I got married (not including the honeymoon) for about $5k with 200 guests. Cheap weddings are doable.


> Not to mention get married (wedding costs are insane, going through that right now)

Then don't do it that way. You can get married in a back yard, or in a park. For a park, the venue might cost you $100; for a backyard, $0. You don't have to have a reception with a meal (schedule the wedding at 2 PM, with reception immediately after, so nobody expects a full meal). You don't need a stunning dress or a tux.

I've been married over 28 years. The building we got married in has been torn down. I lost my original wedding ring. The developer lost the pictures from our honeymoon. The cake is long gone. But we're still here. It's not about the stuff around the day. Choose some balance between your desires and your desired budget, and call it good enough.


I don't think it's crazy with some budgeting. These numbers seem pretty conservative for most parts of the country:

Monthly take-home income (after health insurance, taxes, and 10% retirement): $6000

Rent/mortgage: $1200

Car payments: $750

Student loan minimum payments: $750

Shopping: $600

Groceries: $500

Savings: $250

Transport/auto maintenance: $200

Restaurants/bars: $200

Utilities: $200

Subscriptions: $100

Other insurance: $100

Haircuts/cosmetics/etc: $75

Pet care: $50

That leaves ~$1000 for paying down debt, saving for things like vacations, furniture upgrades, etc. I'm probably missing some things, but I'm also being pretty conservative with most categories. Many things will also vary by region.

EDIT: Some updates to figures.


>Between the cost of daycare, health care/insurance, pet care, car payments and maintenance, student loan payments, and then a mortgage (even a cheap mortgage) on top of that, not to mention saving something for retirement, forget the 10x your salary by the time you retire or whatever, and once every 2-3 years go on a vacation at least to the next state over, I do sometimes wonder how households can make ends meet on less than $100k a year, and have no idea how a household can get by on the average $60k a year.

You list a bunch of optional things here as if they are some human right. Pet costs? Don't own a pet. Car payments? Do you think people struggling to make ends meet should be spending $250+ / month on a car? Buy a 20 year old Civic. Mortgage? Families making a combined $60k rent. Student loans? Why are they making so little with their degree? Poor choice? I doubt most families making $60k are paying off student loans.

>Not to mention get married (wedding costs are insane, going through that right now) or other life events.

Well that's just dumb. Families making $60k don't (shouldn't) kick things off with a lavish wedding.

>We make more than that, have no children, and we're still shuffling money around to make it all work.

I admit that I'm assuming a lot here, but if you two can't make things work on a six figure income I don't know, sounds like you're throwing away a lot of money on luxuries.

To me you come off as if you assume all of these luxuries are how everyone does/should live, and that's simply not the case.


And so the legend goeth: A friend exclaimed, "how do you afford to buy a house in San Francisco?" I, too, laughed! For lo': huts in the wilderness were mere pennies. He hadn't ever been to the bush, and had assumed the insane cost of living in this area exists in other places with high-paying tech jobs.


The same extrapolations happen with population density. People in LA and New York think the world is overpopulated and everyone is on top of each other. They don't realize that 45 minutes north east of San Francisco there are no houses, no street lights and no cell phone reception.


What are you talking about? I don't know anyone in Los Angeles who believes this. I doubt very many people in NY or SF believe it either.


> I certainly got zero cash from family when I bought a home.

Crucially, this is not the least help your family can offer.

For many (most?) people in the world, their relatives are actually insecure and need financial support. This is a key reason the cycle of poverty can't be broken by one person getting a good job.

I know multiple people who would've easily had a down payment on a house if their parents hadn't lost pensions/savings in the financial crisis.

Several years later, that $100k they used to bail out parents would've grown to $300k+ in equity if they could've bought a house in a city between 2009 and 2012.


Responding to your quote: Working in finance, I can report that we do not have magic money machines.

You could narrow "finance" to mean professional traders who do extensive market research and take large risks, sure, they make a lot of money, but they also get wiped out periodically.

They're not very different from other entrepreneurs who make a big investment into their area of expertise and takes big risks, often failing many times along the way.

That is pretty much the "self-made" story, and one thing I do see working in finance is that most people are way too risk averse for it. That's not a bad thing in aggregate, the conservative majority's instinct for stability is an important buffer against all the breakage the risk takers cause.


I'm not saying it's an easy job, by any means, but there's not a ton of risk involved in taking an entry level job at an investment bank and trying to work your way up to MD or similar. And that track most certainly pays plenty well, even if you doin't quite get as high as the boardroom.


The places with cheaper housing also tend to suffer from a dearth of employment options. There are probably a few mid-sized cities out there that have both cheap housing and decently-paid jobs, but I imagine they are few and far between.

I don't know how legitimate this source is, but

> ATTOM points out that home prices are climbing faster than wages in 80% of U.S. markets. In fact, median home prices increased at a faster pace than average weekly wages in 601 of the 755 counties analyzed in its report.

https://www.housingwire.com/articles/47878-home-prices-are-r...


I live in a midwest college town. Unemployment here is extremely low, has been for decades. Housing costs are relatively low as well. I live in a house that in the Seattle area would be over $1M. I paid 20% of that. There are multiple startups for tech here, as well as government jobs, college related jobs, and other industries. So there's no dearth of employment options. If something were to happen, I can commute an hour to a city with a population of 1M.


They are pretty common. Kansas City. St. Louis. Des Moines. Dayton. And that's just the Midwest.

You don't need a great job market; you just need the one job. Works for some people.


With the market changing quicker than ever before due to various structural changes such as new technologies, consolidation of employers, and globalization, I would not recommend having one, or even just a handful of buyers for what you're selling. This applies to businesses and individuals.

I would demand a premium for being in a market where there are fewer buyers and I am subject to more risk of losing my income.


In Europe house prices seem fairly tied to employment opportunities. Certainly if you are working in It.


Is that true? I know real estate is incredibly expensive in places like London/Paris and most people cannot afford to own homes there based on their working salary (which is usually much lower than the US equivalent).


Works for a lot of people, especially if they fall into fairly standard, but good service gigs. e.g. vehicle repair, home repair, cutting hair, or working a local pub.

Even better if you show up with a pile of cash from a former career.


>> I certainly got zero cash from family when I bought a home.

For a lot of wealthy friends, this was the case, they were self made (first order) and paid their own way (first order). The really valuable thing they received was the safety net and contacts such that they werent exposed to the spikes of unfortunate things that can happen. For me, if I cant make mortgage for 6mo, i'd be in trouble and there is no family member to help out. There is no uncle at a hedge fund who can suddenly get me a job. I'm in the general pool of candidates and only have those opportunities and the ones I create myself.

That makes be reach less, it made me take more conservative jobs earlier on in my career, etc. My risk tolerance and hence potential rewards go down


Are you talking about "View from 9th Avenue" [1]? If so, that is a great analogy because it depicts no housing in the rest of the country.

[1] https://condenaststore.com/featured/view-from-9th-avenue-sau...


Exactly. I live in a 2nd tier city. My friends who are home owners have very middle class blue collar jobs. Examples include auto mechanic, security system installer, and local delivery truck driver. None of them got "help."


How old are they? I know plenty of people who bought a house 30 or 40 years ago on blue collar salaries. I don't know any <30 year olds who bought property without parental help.


Where do the people you know live? That might inform the probability of being able to buy a home with or without parental help.

I just picked a metro: Baton Rouge. Median home price there is around $160k, although naturally there is plenty of inventory available for less than $100k. Some of it's in pretty dismal shape, but, looking at Zillow, there are non-zero houses in this category that look livable. The median HHI in Baton Rouge is $45k. So it would take about four years for the median family to save up enough to buy something that's at least livable, assuming they can save ten percent of their income.

I couldn't say whether blue collar people make at, above, or below the median, but it strikes me as likely that at least some of them will be able to purchase a home in this type of metro.


I grew up in the midwest. Most of the people I know are in Iowa, some in Illinois and Missouri. Saving up a down-payment is a significant obstacle, I think. I know that in some areas, you can get a rural development loan that requires a much smaller downpayment, but my friends don't want to live in the boonies and it would lead to a pretty miserable commute for them.


A hearty mmmeeehhhh to the idea that the median household cannot save 10%. Proof by existence: 50% of families live on less than the median. Probably at least 35% live on 10% or more less than the median. At that point it's a matter of priorities.

Not saying life is cushy in this situation by any means. And of course there will be many families that cannot save enough. But it is doable if someone wants to make it a priority.


I agree with you, additionally it's important to understand the concept of a "starter home." These homes may be much older, in less than ideal neighborhoods, and need you to put some sweat equity in them. The mistake I see some young people making is being unwilling to accept a home of lower quality than the ones their parents currently live in. They often don't see that this is their parents' second or third home that they've upgraded to. I don't blame the young people, I think this is a failure of the parents to set reasonable expectations of how to build a life.


FHA gives loans at 3.5% downpayment.


Go on a digital spirit quest with Zillow to towns and cities where you have never been. Be prepared to be amazed!


I bought a house in Pittsburgh when I was 26. Sold it and moved to the West Coast, where I rent, though.


They are in their mid-30s.


Blue collar jobs tend to pay well.


A $180,000 30yr mortgage will cost you ~$880 per month. These days the median of all home sales in the US is about $225,000. The hard part of that $225k purchase for most people under 30 is the down payment of $45k.

The median full-time income is about $50,000 in the US. Emphasis that that is the median, not average.

Two household incomes is ~$85,000 or higher at median type wages (assuming a pairing of one full-time median, one lesser).

Home ownership is very much within reach at the median, so long as your income matches your market. You can't live in major US cities, earn the median, and ever hope to own a home.


With the average cost of wedding in the US being above $35k (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/what-the-average-american-...), $45k of downpayment seems to be well within the means of an average family.


It's very doable, especially if you have a partner to split it with. Where the $45k gets someone under 30, is just that it can take several years to put together that sum. Most people don't start to hit their earning stride until the very late 20s or early 30s.

So you're in the median bracket and you get your first serious, solid paying job by ~24/25. It's reasonable that if you're diligent about savings every month, you could have $45k+ by yourself at 32-36 years of age, and I'm assuming some financial setbacks along the way. With a partner, it really shouldn't be a problem by those ages. To do it before 30, you'd need a good economic pairing of two people that already are near or above $85k by 30. All assuming you're not living in an expensive market of course. With the necessary caveat: having children before 28 or 30 considerably changes the equation (unless you have a larger income in the household to offset that additional cost), as can serious health problems and associated bills (depending on your job/career situation).


Don't forget student loans. We have a whole generation of people that are saddled with large student loans. They can easily spend all the money that would have gone towards saving for a house downpayment on paying their student loan payment instead.


Marriage-related crap is charged to credit cards and/or is subsidized through financial gifts by friends and family after the wedding.

Down payments are neither, unless your parents/inlaws are feeling generous.

The average savings account balance in this country is far less than 45k. You are completely out of touch if you think the average family can simply pull that out of their asses.


Marriage rates are also declining except among the middle to upper-middle classes.


>She told me, “I was curious, but I don't know how a single person in America who doesn't have family money could buy anything, I really don’t, if they're not working in finance or they're not a doctor. ”

This is kind of like that cartoon of a New Yorker's view of the US, where Manhattan looms large, then there's New Jersey, and at the fringes there is the rest of the nation.

I met this veteran taxi driver in South Carolina who had bought a big Federal era house north of the state capital, for only $20,000 back in the late 90's. Everything about the house needed fixing, and there was no heating/ventilation equipment functioning at all. He was living there, however, and he was putting all of his extra money into buying construction materials, so he could eventually sell it for 20 times as much. I also knew a waitress/barista in Ohio who had bought a duplex, was living in one half, and renting out the other. She had done all of that on $5/hour plus tips and sweat equity. Both of the above examples happened in the 90's.

This Kirsten Dirksen video is basically a documentary about how homeowner's interests and their affect on local laws have basically ossified our society. (This is set in Sonoma, which is not overcrowded in the least.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8x4CWBMsPg

Basically, homeowners have thrown up roadblocks to keep "the wrong element" out of their neighborhoods, which also locks out the young people of their own group. The big irony is that this happened much more in liberal California than it did in conservative Ohio and South Carolina.


The big irony is that this happened much more in liberal California than it did in conservative Ohio and South Carolina.

Not sure where you've come up with this bizarre and selective understanding of US history. Ohio is notorious for racially-based restrictive covenants on housing. There were entire neighborhoods where deeds had restrictions preventing their sale to blacks. They got the idea from southern states like South Carolina. These restrictions are still on many of the deeds in Ohio and South Carolina, though they are no longer legally enforceable.


Not sure where you've come up with this bizarre and selective understanding of US history. Ohio is notorious for racially-based restrictive covenants on housing

Note that I was specifically talking about the unintended impacts of such laws on the youth of one's "own" group. California is singularly bad about that. (I have a different view on these things, outside of the usual polarization. So people tend to project a "side" to my comments which isn't intended and actually isn't there. As a non-white person whose parents experienced ethnically based exclusion, such projections make little sense to me.)


I am constantly surprised at people's inability to imagine that other people lives are different than thier own.

Just because real estate is expensive in the center of a big city doesn't mean it's impossible to buy a house anywhere in the entire country.

Just because you can't support yourself as a writer doesn't mean nobody can support themselves no matter what.

Just because you got free money from your parents doesn't mean everyone gets lots of free money from thier parents.


Yes! This. People get a really distorted view of reality, hanging around people earning 6 figure salaries, spending 90+% of them. Even in major cities, the median salaries are typically in the ~$50k range, and people do live and raise kids just fine. Instead of wondering how they do that, people tend to just throw up their hands, and declare it's impossible.


I came away from this feeling like it's a very short jump from "Maybe some of the people doing impossibly well got help" to "Everyone who is doing better than me must have gotten help".

I can't help but feel this element of dismissal is present even in this piece. E.g., Pierson turned a $15,000 loan into a business with $300,000/yr in revenue. She says, her biggest fear was hearing “she’s only successful because of her parents.” And this piece seems to suggest, or at least gently lead, the reader in that direction- ignoring the many many people who turned $15,000 loans into failed businesses.


Sure, it's impressive enough to turn $15k into a profitable business but most people could only take that plunge once or maybe twice, realistically. How many successful businesses were started by people who could do that ten times or a hundred times? Or more pertinently: how much of the market has been captured by such people? That's the real differentiator.


Turning a $15,000 loan into a successful business is certainly a big accomplishment that does not warrant dismissal. On the other hand, is it not true that this success depended on her parents? How many people out there are capable of doing what she did, except they would never have access to a $15,000 loan in the first place? We can acknowledge that the deck is stacked without blindly dismissing those who succeeded with the deck stacked mildly in their favor.


> ignoring the many many people who turned $15,000 loans into failed businesses.

As far as I understand it, most (VC-backed, tech) companies that raise millions of dollars manage to turn the money into failure.


I understand the use of 'millennials' as click-bait, but when a serious author tries to tie 'millennials' into some larger explanation of sociology I just have to stop reading.

What the hell is going on in [the author]Jen Doll's head where she thinks that the myth of self-made success is a millennial phenomena? Does she suffer from amnesia? Is this just 4000 words of disinterested bullshit to get paid?


Yes. Her writing career is unreliable, she said so herself. She has to take every opportunity


I like that we keep talking about privilege, no matter how much it irks the hacker news elite. I have a previous comment about this[0], so I will not go into too much detail.

Nobody thinks they are rich or privileged. Now, the Hendersons down the street? THOSE PEOPLE are rich! I feel that people underestimate the huge effect of having a safety net under them.

It is the difference between going to the amazing state school and the local community college.

It is the difference between paying attention and learning in class and sleeping through it because you had to get up at 6 am to work an 8-hour shift.

It is the difference between living in a studio apartment, 45 minutes from school in the bad part of town and living in the beautiful two-bedroom top-floor loft in Logan Square.

It is the difference between a data entry job, and an unpaid research internship with your professors.

It is the difference between sleeping on a couch for 3 months while you look for your first job, and having a place to stay and prepare.

It is the difference between taking the first job you can get, and holding out until you find a better one.

It's the difference between a loan for a house and a loan to your parents to pay off medical debt.

Think about every step, every decision you have made in your life and consider if you would have made the same choices if your life was different.

0: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19098317


Every time I see privilege come up, people start denying it, or excusing it. Saying things like "I still had to work hard for this!"

It's a tricky subject to talk about, as the article references, specifically because it's hard to differentiate between what you got from privilege and what you got from hard work.

I find analogies best to talk about it. Your goal is to reach the top floor of a building. Some people start at the penultimate floor. Some start on the 2nd floor. Others are in the basement. Every single one takes effort to climb the steps. But some have a big head start, and can even fail down a few floors and still have it easier than other people.


There's very little that's more impertinent than telling an American he didn't earn what he has. Can't speak for other cultures.


Sorry for being blunt, but coming from a dirt poor background I've been there and done that. You sound like a really pampered person who cannot imagine living anywhere but in a two bedroom apartment with a maid and on-premises gym.

No, it's not that bad and you can read books equally well in your own apartment or in a public library.

You have a couple of valid points about medical debt, which is a crazy American thing and working while studying, which is tough. The rest though shows a complete lack of understanding how being poor works.

It is the difference between going to the amazing state school and the local community college.

HN is full of anecdotes that professors in the community college are not that much worse. And for the price they are actually AMAZING. Yes, being an Ivy league graduate generally helps. But we're not talking about crazy rich folks here, right?

It is the difference between living in a studio apartment, 45 minutes from school in the bad part of town and living in the beautiful two-bedroom top-floor loft in Logan Square.

Sorry, I'm not getting this one. Yes, living in a two bedroom loft is somewhat nicer, but what does it have to do with studying or working?

It is the difference between a data entry job, and an unpaid research internship with your professors.

Data entry job hands down. A month of real job on resume is worth a year of sitting in the lab and adjusting the thermostat.

It is the difference between taking the first job you can get, and holding out until you find a better one.

Just take the first job you can and keep looking for a better one?


What if I told you it's possible to accept one's privilege while disputing the degree to which it has directly contributed to specific, positive life/professional outcomes?


If you use the word "wealth" instead of "privilege" there's not much to argue about.

The problem is that there are many people today (with very dubious motivations) trying to confuse the issue of wealth with other issues. The great divide is today, as it has been since the dawn of civilization, between the people that have money and the people that have-not money.


Resonates strongly with me. Many of my school friends went to the best colleges in my country - all the time attributing their success solely to "hard work". However, they always seemed to ignore the fact that their parents paid a lot of money for them to attend the best tuition outside of school. I did not have that option and did not get admitted to any of the famous colleges (I am discounting the constant mental tension associated with poverty here). Luckily, I have done quite well for myself (till now) - but I am under no illusion that it was solely due to me. For example, I got my first data science job via a personal contact - without that I would forever be stuck in less paying jobs.

Edit: typos


> I did not have that option and did not get admitted to any of the famous colleges (I am discounting the constant mental tension associated with poverty here). Luckily, I have done quite well for myself

Rather than confirm the articles premise you seem to be discrediting it.


Well, your school friends might know some people who went to the same schools but weren't as successful because they were 'lazy'. Ergo their 'hard work' is what differentiates them from those people (on the last mile). You, however, look at it with a different scope.


I received much better financial aid offers from top schools than the local state university. While the ability to pay tuition definitely is a factor, keep in mind that many students do not pay even close to sticker price.


Different states have different amounts of financial aid. I fortunately have a state school that is highly ranked in Comp. Sci.

My family didn't get much financial aid, but I managed to put mostly on a loan and pay it back afterwards. I do realize that having a family rich enough to disqualify from financial aid is the "advantage" this article is probably talking about...

But still, it wasn't like it was easy to take the SAT like 5 or 6 times through practice regiments. Memorizing word-lists from 3 different "SAT-word list books" to master analogies / reading sections was incredibly rigorous, it was the hardest studying I ever did in my life. By the end of the program, I memorized well over 20,000 "difficult words" over a period of 6-months to improve my SAT score (and promptly forgot about them after the test). Its not easy to do.

There were plenty of other people in my SAT Prep classes who were unable to score as high as me... and there were plenty of people I know who worked harder than I did and scored higher than I. So there is certainly something to be said about "self-driven effort".

But I fully recognize that my family's values and money helped me achieve what others couldn't. I also know of friends who were unable to afford multiple test-prep classes year after-year during high school... multiple years of "Kumon Math", and other such extracurricular after-school academic classes. Only now as an Adult do I realize how expensive all those after-school test prep classes are.

------------

There's give and take for sure. The opportunity is money-driven, but the achievement is still personal. All the money and test-prep classes in the world won't help if the child is disinterested or lazy.


> A recent study from Merrill Lynch and Age Wave reported that 79 percent of the parents surveyed are providing financial support to their adult children, at an average $7,000 a year

Wow, this can’t be right. I mean I’ve had friends whose parents paid for their university and stuff like that, and mine helped me a little bit with tuition at a cheap state school, too, for which I’m grateful. But ongoing financial support, year after year? And 4 out of 5 parents? Yow! Guess I’m naive, but I had no idea it was that common. Maybe age is part of it. I was lucky enough to go to uni before the days of 6 figure student loan debt.

I know exactly one adult whose parents pay for all their bills, including rent. We’re friends so I give him hell about it. “You’re a grown-ass man with a decent job. Let mommy and daddy retire already!” I think once you start down those tracks and get used to the “extra funding” lifestyle, it’s hard to get off the train.


Yeah I am a bit surprised, though I do see many of these examples around me. I have several peers into their late 20's receiving support, many in the NYC area as well.

My parents put a roof over my head, valued education, helped with most all of my tuition for undergrad (over 100k), I have 7k of student loan debt left to pay off and I am 26. Right now, I am only left on their phone plan, which I just venmo my dad monthly for, 50 bucks for unlimited on Verizon and I bought my phone off of Swappa for 200 bucks (I recommend Swappa as well, save your money)

I've also seen parents feed junkies, so there's that. I don't understand the ones not working, yet going out all the time, no money management, doing drugs....parents sending money... WHY?!?!


It’s not just about the money, there is also the intangible experience when it comes to information and family education. I’d argue that will put an even a stronger influence on a kid’s mindset so if a parent is giving a 15k loan to a child it doesn’t mean the kid isn’t helped significantly to bootstrap her otherwise. On the contrary, it feels even more like a status symbol of demonstration from the parents to illustrate to society how confident they were about the kids paying the loan back.


The one thing that personally really angers me is that many institutions are exponentially harder to break into unless you come from a specific, moneyed background. You basically need to go to an elite preschool, to go to an elite primary school (usually private), to go to an elite secondary school, to get into an elite university, to get into an elite company in an elite sector (consulting, investment banking, arguably SV tech more often than not). To this class of people, spending $60k+ a year*, per child is nothing since they have been spending that much since the child was born. I've met more than a handful of these people that I wonder what, if anything, they learned.


I think a more interesting question to ask is: Why do we care who is responsible for our success?

Is it so that we know how to engineer more success? Or, is it to validate our egos? And, if the latter, aren't we asking the wrong question?


We care because if a lot of people don’t believe they can succeed they will generate substantial social unrest, which has often ended poorly throughout history.


But this article is working in the opposite direction -- attempting to take people's ego down a notch and convince them success is not a result of their agency.

I get the feeling that the article is steeped in a value system based around the ego. But, if we take it for granted that the ego is important, shouldn't we be happy when people have elated egos? Why try to bring them down?

And, if we don't agree that the ego is important, why even ask these questions to begin with?


Sorry, I wrote that poorly. The well-off people who defend the ideal of the self made person do so because of their desire to not be on the wrong end of pitchforks (metaphorical or otherwise). Not necessarily to massage their egos.


In some parts of the world, it's very often the other way round: kids financially supporting their parents. Or what would you do when your parents' savings and pension had all disappeared in the collapse of the USSR? That's exactly the scenario some friends of mine are in...


I am not quite sure why the author narrows in on millennials in this piece, this is something happening among varying age groups.

It also appears from my experience on this forum that the prevailing opinion here is that this story is not a myth at all, but I understand there is variance here.

The issue with cost of living is an obvious one that is made in comments here, but that still does nothing to address the individuals/families who _still_ struggle in areas that are much cheaper to live. Yes, the insular view of one who has not lived outside SF is troublesome, but it's dishonest to argue as if there is still not real existing poverty in places with a lower cost of living.

While there are many different ways the socioeconomic status of ones family and upbringing can assist in their own success, there are a myriad of ways in which this is also influenced by systemic features to our society, as well as the historical context of that. Think of racially discriminatory housing policies that have helped lead to wealth gaps in the present.

While rags to riches makes a good story, we also don't talk about failures in business as much as we do the successful enterprises. Referring to individual actions in tandem with family assistance, coming to terms with the subject of meritocracy in our society and individual success, I'd propose we're looking at it the wrong way. The part to evaluate is not how much these things have to do with success, but rather how much can they come back from failure? This paints a rather different picture, as those with more financial security are in a much better position to take risks, make poor decisions, while not being pulled into poverty.

Finally, I'd like to point out that there is a growing skepticism of the liberal world order, the mainstream consensus, status quo, whatever you want to call it. More people are realizing now the varying degrees of ways the system is rigged against common working people. With it comes skepticism of the legitimacy of meritocracy in our current social order. This isn't just coming out of a vacuum.


"My life was like this, therefore everyone's was." - Jen Doll


I am perpetually amazed by how often people feel the need to put a label on something, even if that doesn't _really_ matter.

As far as I have noticed, the self-made "myth" is mainly a media trick. For some reason (maybe intrigue, maybe hope, maybe something else), people love rags to riches stories, be it an immigrant to the US with "five dollars in her pocket", a Bill Gates or an Elon Musk. The people who write those stories don't do it to get the word out, they do it to sell you something, so of course they will try to make it as dramatic as possible.

Now there's a counter-movement to balance things out. Bill Gates was actually born in a wealthy family and had a trust fund with millions in it; taking risks with his company was not really a risk. A lot of people like Cara Delevingne (who is constantly advertised everywhere for some reason) are actually part of a family with big ties in their respective industries. They are not truly self-made, but they are not just propelled to the top without significant amounts of work or talent either. The truth is generally somewhere in the middle, with outliers at both ends.

In the end, does it really matter? I feel like social media is full of either stories like this or people pretending to live a perfect life. In short, things that are unattainable for most people even if they were to live a hundred lives. Dreaming big is a wonderful thing, but it definitely won't pan out for the vast majority of people, while making them less happy in the process. That's just my view, maybe wrong in some aspects.


"why do millennials act like it doesn't exist?"

Hhm, do they really?


That was my first thought. What makes any of the article unique to millennials?


I see these types of articles way more than I hear fellow millenials discussing being 'self-made'. It seems almost trendy these days to try to point out all the ways that successful people just got lucky or substantial assistance.

It seems highly related to this trendy idea that all people are fundamentally equal in all forms of capability, except maybe where poor diet hindered education or something.

Individuals vary tremendously, and that's all luck too. Nature+Nurture. Everyone gets something from their parents:

Personality is 40-60% heritable* IQ is 50-80% heritable

So around half of who you are comes from who your parents are. The rest is luck. Even before you're born. My point is that every single person is basically 100% a combination of inheritance and luck. Maybe that inheritance is good genes, good parenting and money or maybe it isn't. Maybe in that context, a 15k loan isn't that big a deal. Maybe it is. Either way, it's counter productive to pick out a single aspect or two of a person and dismantle their success because they had THAT particular advantage.

* https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5068715/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heritability_of_IQ


I spent nearly six years homeless. During that time, I basically taught myself to make money online.

I still don't have much, but I'm off the street. I read articles like this and imagine a future where I'm wealthy and powerful and everyone will talk about my privileged background and pooh pooh the idea that I'm self made.

If I ever figure out how to address affordable housing in some meaningful way, no one will laud me as a champion of the poor and downtrodden. No, they will most likely label me a slumlord.

Of course, no one is entirely self made. Of course, it's helpful to know what resources were genuinely involved in actually creating x, y or z. You have no hope of doing something similar if you have what amounts to misinformation about how it got done.

But we value the concept of a self made person because we've all had to fight to be free. We all struggle to take the hand life dealt us and turn it into a thing we desire. We all look to others who somehow accomplished that for clues to find our way into the unmapped future and try to make it a thing we don't loathe overly much.


Can we stop talking about "millennials" like we're still kids? I'm pretty sure by definition "millennials" are almost 40.


Rising inequality and the expansion of the welfare state have transformed "self-made" into an aspiration. Even prior to the gilded age being "self-made" was rare.. only a few people were able to pull themselves up to success. If you want to read an American self-made tale pick up "Up From Slavery".

Anyway, I grew up lower-middle class. My parents were immigrants and we came from the poorest country in the western hemisphere (Haiti) with no generational wealth. I don't consider myself 'self-made', I'd say there was a mix of luck, support from the state (rent control, FAFSA, EITC, etc.) and self directed hard work.

It sounds like to me that the author got some "generational help" and feels like they were not able to capitalize, unlike some of the other profiled in this article. And thus is taking a zero-sum view of the concept of "self-made".

Most parent's would do anything for their kids lives to end up better than theirs did. I won't have any qualms about paying my kids tuition or helping with a down payment when the time comes.


There is a fundamental limitation in the human ability to assess success.

Humans inheritably live in different worlds therefore, their perception of key factors such as self-actualization, esteem, belonging, love, safety & physiological needs will be invariable different.

I would argue that if everyone started out with the same mindset and base opportunities, with time, the environment and its scarcities would cause some to deviate towards being 'richer' and others towards being 'poorer', partially by luck, and partially by other factors within and outside each person's control.

Someone that is self-made will mostly see itself's success as their personal actions and will mostly overestimate that side (E.g. I saved money while my peers were burning it on consumer goods) while others looking from outside will mostly push the (E.g. He was lucky or the environment he was in made him succeed) usually underestimating the person's personal actions.


Not a great article, but it certainly does illustrate the idea that we are helped to a certain extent.

It's hard to measure one's success accurately.

A $15k loan paid back almost immediately is really nothing in the grand scheme of things, she probably could have gotten a regular loan or at least used some credit cards to float her for it.

A much bigger help was her parents paying for college. THAT's significant.

It meant she knew that starting a business was an option because she could live cheaply after she graduated instead of being forced to get a job.

For the most part, the most successful people in America have been helped significantly by their parents, in my opinion.

Whether it's through paying for an education or networking or outright buying them a business (like a franchise).

Growing up upper-middle class in America puts you way ahead of almost everyone else on the planet as far as advantages goes.


Just adding my data point.

My grandfather gave me a college fund and I went to public college, leaving me with the difference between that and private college. The little nest egg that remained in that account was a weight around my neck. I had many enjoyable experiences in my 20's (eg traveling the world earning a living playing online poker for 3 years), but I felt no urgency to pursue a career.

In my late 20's I spent most of the money attempting to write a novel (living expenses) and gave the rest away. Within months of approaching zero in my bank account, I rediscovered programming, found a career I love and was able to afford children.

My recollections may be colored by history, and I may have just been someone that took a long time to mature, but that's how I feel about it today.


The term self-made is just too imprecise to be useful. The three major factors involved in an individual's success are:

#1 Genetics - High general intelligence, ambition, etc.

#2 Environment - Highly educated well-off parents, etc.

#3 Opportunity - Support of powerful people, etc.

You probably can't do much without at least one of these factors. Most people that do big things have all three working in their favor.

People like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Peter Theil, Elon Musk, Reid Hoffman, and Paul Graham had all three.

On the other hand, people like Steve Jobs, John Carmack, Palmer Luckey, and Larry Ellison only had #1 working for them, which is why their success is so much more impressive.


I always thought it was common knowledge that most people 'making a living' on journalism, academia, literature, art, etc. were being subsidized by either their or another's independent wealth.


Isn’t there a stat that says something like at most 10% of millionaires inherited their money/assets. The rest were supposedly “self made”


This article goes a little deeper in exploring the definition of "self-made." Did those millionaires who didn't inherit money have their college paid for? Did they get help from their parents for a down payment? ...etc. The author makes a valid point by exploring this definition, and it suggests that most people, especially the well off received some substantial help that isn't available to many.


There's an interesting exchange Milton Friedman has about the inheritance of social capital https://youtu.be/hoFdVuqrMZw?t=3928 The video cuts off an interesting follow up exchange

"""FRIEDMAN: Well, the major source of inheritance is the inheritance of human qualities not of physical assets.""" https://miltonfriedman.hoover.org/friedman_images/Collection...

He talks about the inheritance of talent here https://youtu.be/YRLAKD-Vuvk?t=650

I think in all the exchanges he makes a point about how none of it is fair, just as much as an inheritance of a negative hindrance of some kind also isn't fair. I think another person would play as, "there's no cosmic justice"


[flagged]


The question is to what degree.


> Financial help from parents comes in many forms, and it’s the basis of so many success stories. So why do millennials act like it doesn't exist?

Because never before your chances of becoming wealthy without help from your parents were so good? At least that is my impression without knowing any facts.


Even if it is a myth, it's a myth worth believing.


The increasing prevalence of this type of material really rankles me. I fear that it just provides the uninitiated fodder to rationalize their lack of initiative.


> So why do millennials act like [financial help from parents] doesn't exist?

I would argue the exact opposite. I would argue that with the rise of socialist tendencies among millennials, and the hyper fixation on gender, racial, and economic privilege, there is almost an outright rejection of the existence of merit at all. I think that the position is so extreme, that many millennials believe the output of an individual belonging to a group they consider to be universally privileged is almost entirely the consequence of their group's privileges or disadvantages.

No person in their right mind wouldn't acknowledge the privileges we can be afforded. You can be tall, attractive, smart, have both parents at home, not need to work jobs to help your parents take care of your many siblings, have parents that don't abuse you, have access to a network of successful people willing to take financial risks on your behalf. These things are inconceivably helpful. There is a reason that the public's reaction to Donald Trump's "with a small loan of a million dollars and [inheriting my dad's business and network]" was almost unilaterally one of repulsion.

Most sane people don't object to the concept of individual privilege (inherent, universal group privileges are a different discussion). What people object to is the disregarding of merit altogether; the extent to which we are divorcing consequence from actions. Where you start matters, but so do the choices you make.


For someone who claims Millenials' opinions are extreme, you are using some rather charged language and making some very broad generalizations of questionable accuracy.


>Where you start matters, but so do the choices you make.

Of course it does...but the single largest predictor of future income is parental income.

>I would argue the exact opposite. I would argue that with the rise of socialist tendencies among millennials, and the hyper fixation on gender, racial, and economic privilege, there is almost an outright rejection of the existence of merit at all. I think that the position is so extreme, that many millennials believe the output of an individual belonging to a group they consider to be universally privileged is almost entirely the consequence of their group's privileges or disadvantages.

And I would argue that this is the right-wing clickbait version of millennials. Not that people like this don't exist, but that their size and impact has been vastly exaggerated.

>People don't have a problem acknowledging privilege.

That doesn't match my personal experience with people.


Most people don't have a problem acknowledging individual privileges they have been afforded. People object to broad assumptions made on their behalf by using their race or gender as a proxy.


>Most people don't have a problem acknowledging individual privileges they have been afforded. People object to broad assumptions made on their behalf by using their race or gender as a proxy.

You're painting one side as, "they don't have a problem with acknowledging privilege", and the other side as "they don't even acknowledge merit".

For every millennial who believes that racial privilege is 100% responsible for success, I'll show you a baby boomer who believes that they are 100% responsible for their own success and have had zero privileges. You'll find some of them arguing here right now. I've argued with many of them in the past.

In fact surveys show that there is a large chunk of the population that believes that being a white male makes it harder to succeed.

>People object to broad assumptions made on their behalf by using their race or gender as a proxy.

Privilege isn't about absolute life difficulty scale. Of course there is a given white man who has had a harder time than a given black woman.

Privilege is about relative advantages. The average white man would be less successful if he were a black woman--all else being equal.


The author clinging to a 100% literal translation of "self made" is mind-numbingly stupid.


[flagged]


Could you please stop posting unsubstantive, snarky, and gratuitously negative comments to Hacker News?

You've done this a lot, it breaks the site guidelines, and we're hoping for better than that here.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


This is objectively false. I know a lot of successful people who haven't had any help whatsoever, starting with $0 and building their later successful business on the side while working full-time. In fact, I barely know anyone who had their rent paid by their parents at all (since that seems to be the argument here).


So is this entire article about how some successful people got help from parents? (And therefore, all must have gotten help from their parents.) Seems pretty easy to cherry-pick the stories you research and write about here.

Let me skip all the way to the end, spoiler alert:

> If you have the privilege of not having to pay 50 percent of your rent because your parents are paying, how can you advocate for interns to make a decent-enough salary, or for scholarships to support an intern or fellow? That’s where the change comes in.”

I don't understand this thesis. These are the exact type of people who would advocate for "decent-enough salary" because money comes to them for free. The magical thinking required to just demand decent-enough salaries are thrown about by businesses (or other authority figures) that must have bottomless pockets looks very similar to how they think about getting a free ride from mommy and daddy.

Can we find examples of people who get free money from their parents and openly say that everyone else needs to pull themselves up by the bootstraps? I think "Trump" might be the only person others will respond with, cynically at that, given I don't think Trump has said such a thing--he's just a Republican. But otherwise, where are all these trust-fund babies who believe everyone else needs to be a self-made person? Those people don't exist as far as I know.


So the author's parents encouraged leverage by subsidizing a down payment on real estate, an asset class which underperforms index funds. The story doesn't seem to end well; it is probably self correcting in the long run.


Real estate underperforms index funds? Perhaps in capital appreciation, but in terms of cash on cash returns, nothing beats real estate. If you can turn a $50k downpayment into a $250k property netting $300 per month after mortgage/expenses, plus get capital appreciation on top of that — you’ll make far more money on that $50k than the same money invested in an index fund. Statements such as “indexes out-perform real estate” might be true for an owner-occupied residence, but it certainly isn’t true when the real estate is an actual cash-flowing investment and not your own residence. What people fail to grasp is that a $250k house doesn’t cost $250k in cash. It costs $50k in cash. While the bank owns the other $200k in value, that $50k gives you control of that asset and the cash flow that comes from it. If that $250k house goes up to $300k in value, then you just earned a 100% return on your cash plus the cash-flow revenue. Even if the house goes down in value, if you are still cash flow positive, you are still making money. A $300 net per month is $3600 per year which is a 7% return on your $50k cash, however on top of that 7%, you also get a “free” house since your tenant is paying the note and expenses. On top of that, you get depreciation, which in many cases can make that $3600 per year tax free when the depreciation exceeds the income from the rent.

Indexes outperforming real estate is a highly simplistic view and doesn’t accurately reflect cash on cash returns, tax advantages and cash flow. $50k in an index vs $50k as a down payment on a cash flow property— the property is going to make as much in cash as your entire capital appreciation for the index. For an index to be better, it’s going to have to both appreciate at a higher rate than the house as well as pay dividends equal to the annual net from the house.

Comparing indexes and real estate shouldn’t discount the value of leverage, nor should it discount the cash flow from the asset. (In the situation you are commenting on though, the author buying a residence, I don’t disagree; I am commenting on real estate as an asset class in general.)


$50k downpayment on real estate has a lot more risk and a lot more work than $50k in an index fund, hence the possible higher return. It's up to the investor to determine their risk profile and whether or not they want to invest time in buying and selling real estate, finding and dealing with good tenants, maintenance issues, liability issues, spending time figuring out tax incentives and/or spending money on accountants.

There is no guarantee that property values will go up, or even stay stable. Ask the people in NJ/CT/IL/KY and other non-booming places facing skyrocketing property taxes and stagnant home sale prices. Who knows, maybe an earthquake erases all those plump west coast gains tomorrow. The index fund investment is placing bets on economic activity as a whole, not picking winners and losers of real estate markets.


Also, I was speaking from a leverage standpoint. If someone is worth less than the value of a house, and finances most of it, then they have effectively put their personal balance sheet book value into negative territory, effectively making an ROE calculation very ugly in the near term. The scenario described above is just the effect of leverage, not the fact that said leverage is applied to real estate.


The annual net from the house you live in I guess is arguably the benefit of living in it. Hard to compare that with the dividends produced by an index. The dividends produced by the index can be used to pay rent, for example.


I think I found the problem:

"Take a look around you at the lives you envy, the ones that make you boil with resentment, or fill you with insecurity about your own subpar existence: That adorable Brooklyn brownstone or chic-but-rustic upstate home; the career that YOU want (and you should have, what are you doing wrong?); the impeccable wardrobe; the mid-century modern furniture; the international vacations; the time spent flitting between gorgeous hotels or going to boutique fitness classes or (seemingly) not working at all."

Do people really envy others like this and make themselves miserable over it? Other than the time not working, that list reads like pure hedonism, much of which is probably best avoided all together.

I also don't think it's such a mystery as to who has come from money and who hasn't. Hint: poor people aren't freelance writers living in Brooklyn and they know those who are come from a different class altogether (since they probably don't even value half of those things).

dev_dull 29 days ago [flagged]

It's really quite amazing to see the attacks lately against successful people. I can't help but feel we're being prepped to accept a new tax structure (or possibly new economical model), and the first step is to whip up everyone against the future fodder (wealthy individuals).

The poor spendthrift vagabond says to a rich man:

"I have discovered there is enough money in the world for all of us, if it was equally divided; this must be done, and we shall all be happy together."

"But," was the response, "if everybody was like you, it would be spent in two months, and what would you do then?"

"Oh! divide again; keep dividing, of course!"


Ayn Rand is back from the dead, and she's posting on HN!

In all seriousness though, the excesses of certain rich people are pretty gross. I once saw a guy spend $20k (of inherited money) on a fancy showerhead. Kids who go into foster care are 3x more likely to go to prison and unlikely to reach higher education. "Equal opportunity" indeed.


Who cares what someone wastes their money on? If you believe a “fool and their money are soon parted” then the only explanation for life-long wealthy people is that they don’t waste it.

There are many problems in our country. Are you doing something personally to make it better, or just attacking others and asking someone else to fix it for you?


Wealthy people can afford to waste much more (in absolute terms) without losing their wealth. The extreme is European royalty before revolution, and eventually it was shown that people did not have an unlimited tolerance for inequality.

"There are many problems in our country..." I probably don't live in your country, but I try to work towards solving problems. There are also people in my society whose job it is to solve social problems, and I help fund the work of those people just by being economically productive and therefore paying taxes.




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